Did John the Baptist Doubt Jesus as Messiah?

Did John Know Jesus Was the Messiah?

Many Bible students wonder whether or not John the Baptist doubted Jesus was the actual Messiah when he sent his disciples to Jesus with the question.. “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3, also Luke 7:19).

There are few Bible passages in which there is as wide a divergence of opinion among Bible commentators as is found on the subject of John’s question concerning Jesus’ messiahship.

The various views of interpretation of this subject are:

  1. John the Baptist asked the question because his disciples needed strengthening (this view was held by Luther, Calvin, Beza)
  2. John wondered whether Jesus was the Great One because of His acts of meekness and mercy
  3. John’s faith may have failed as a result of his being in Herod’s prison for months with no action by Jesus to secure his release
  4. John’s patience may have failed, but not his faith in Jesus, i.e., “You are the One we are expecting, aren’t you? Then why not do something?”
  5. John was puzzled. John had prophesied that the coming One would do some striking works of judgment (Luke 3:16), but Jesus was … engrossed in works of mercy. “Would somebody else then do those works of judgment?” John wanted to know. (TYNDALE NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY –GOSPFL OF LUKE, by Leon Morris, pp. 141-142.)

In the LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Volume II, we find the following explanation for Matthew 11:2-19: During John’s imprisonment by King Herod, he heard of the works of Christ (miracles). John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus about His being the actual Messiah of the Old Testament prophecies. Note: John had already proclaimed Jesus as Messiah…. John may have begun to question why Jesus had left him in prison (p. 45).

The following comments concerning Luke 7:18-26 can also be found in the LIBERTY BIBLE COMMENTARY, Volume II: John the Baptist, the Old Testament’s predicted forerunner of the Messiah, was cast into prison shortly after he introduced Christ to Israel. Since the kingdom had not materialized in the interim, he (John) began to entertain doubts regarding Christ’s mission (vs.20). That very hour, Jesus performed miracles predicted of the Messiah in Isaiah 61:1-2, and told John’s disciples to convey that information back to John, which must have reassured the great prophet (p. 162).

Please note that Jesus, in answering the question of John’s disciples, referred them to observe the miracles He performed. They (the miracles) were proof that He was the Messiah. Prophets had indeed performed miracles, but no prophet had performed so many, or any so important. Jesus, moreover, performed miracles in His own name and by His own power. Prophets had performed miracles only by the power of God. Jesus, therefore, performed the miracles which none but the Messiah could do, and John might easily infer that He was the Christ. (BARNE’S NOTES, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 118).

An excellent commentary on the Matthew 11 passage is found in THE CRISWELL STUDY BIBLE. Dr. Criswell explains the possible reason for John’s question concerning Jesus’ Messiahship: John’s question was a question asking clarification, not a question of doubt. The Old Testament presented the Messiah in a twofold character: (1) as a suffering servant; (2) as a reigning monarch. The prophets (as John was called) could not see the great interval of time between the two comings of our Lord…. John had proclaimed a final judgment and salvation (of the Jews) associated with the glorious kingdom established by the Messiah (millennium and eternal kingdom)…. John did not perceive the difference between the Messianic salvation of the new age (during Jesus’ public ministry) which had come and the age yet to come (Christ’s earthly rule). John had expected the structure (government of the Jews) to be disrupted by the coming of the Messiah and was possibly perplexed because it had not happened (p. 1124).

Also in THE CRISWELL STUDY BIBLE we find the following explanation for the Luke 7 passage: “He that should come” is a reference to the anticipated Messiah. Some commentators, such as Luther, Calvin, and Beza, suggest that John asks the question because his disciples needed strengthening, others indicate that John’s faith is being tested because Jesus does not correspond to his (John’s) expectation. More likely, John is asking if more than one figure (person) was to be anticipated to fulfill the total messianic expectation, one to be lowly and to suffer and the other to rule and to reign (p. 1200).

It should be noted that John the Baptist had declared Jesus to be the Son of God (John 1:34), the Lamb of God (v. 29), he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost (v. 33), and sent of God (John 3:34), thus John did point men to Jesus as the messiah (see Matthew 3:13; John 1:29, 35- 10:41; Acts 18:25; 19:4). Therefore, it is not certainly known why John sent his disciples to Jesus. It should be noted further that Christ’s own disciples were confused over the subject of the kingdom (see Acts 1:6).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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